Why advice matters: An immigrant’s view

By Younas Chaudhary

In my early years in the oil and gas business, I knew very little about what lay beneath the land. Each property was a gamble, and an immigrant like me was a rare sight in an industry dominated by locals. There was intense competition, and I quickly realized that I needed steady counsel and prudent advice.

As I built my team, I learned from differing viewpoints that gave me insight and helped us solve problems more effectively. I also learned tremendously from sheer on-the-ground perseverance and consistent hard work.

By combining wise outside advice and gritty real-world experience, I designed a process that helped us evaluate the early stages of a proposal. I focused mainly on the 3 following basic tasks while making a deal:

  • Cash Flow – Cost Factors
  • Return on Investment
  • Potential

I really needed advice in evaluating deals and often found that lenders provided the best and most unbiased advice. I trusted them because they were working in the background to evaluate a deal. Lenders care about the success of a deal as sincerely as we do, as they are keen to get their loan portfolios paid off.  As a result, their projections, with the risk discounts, are often  accurate.

For this reason, even if I intended to fund a deal without debt, I would ask my lenders to evaluate projects before I made any investments. If you have a lender with good common sense on your side, you are well-positioned to receive solid business advice. And, such advice can be helpful in making decisions on deals.

However, that advice alone is not enough.  To make the best decisions, you should seek advice from third party individuals and organizations who are specialized in such fields.   

One of my first key advisers was a friendly Kansas farmer named Leo Atkins. He gave me a leg up in the oil business, advised me how to talk to local farmers, and showed me how to persuade them and win their hearts and minds.  Leo boosted my confidence in the late seventies when the Iran Hostage Crisis was at its peak and I was scouting for oil leases among farmers in Kansas who wondered if I might be a hostile Iranian in their midst!

Similarly, some of the best advice I’ve received that has been priceless in the growth of my business was from local lease pumpers in the oilfields.  It is essential when securing advice to seek out a diverse group of individuals talented in multiple areas. Create a brain trust that can give you feedback on different disciplines, ranging from sales to operations and other areas. Remember that none of us can ever claim expertise in all areas of our business.

Seeking third party advice has taught me patience and humility and has repeatedly protected us from making hasty and unwise decisions. It forced us to check our egos at the door and remain open-minded to ideas and opinions that might differ radically from our own preferred approach to making decisions.

In addition, over the years I have learned that some of your best advisors can be your own family members. For me, often it was my simple wife Bushra who played this role, before she unfortunately was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. When I had complex problems to solve, I would ask her for solutions, and she would give me her honest, blunt, and unfiltered opinion. This has been invaluable in helping me navigate complex challenges in life and in business.

To conclude, let me tell you a funny story that happened shortly after our marriage in Pakistan. Those days, people would flock to fortune tellers to seek advice and get a glimpse of their future, especially after a wedding. Bushra and I chose Sajjad, a well-known young palmist in town, and sought his advice about our future. Sajjad took my palm, studied it, and told Bushra: “One day soon he will go to the West and become wealthy.”  For that prediction, I am way more blessed!

In all seriousness, I would be the last person to encourage you to seek advice from a palmist, but here are a few key points to keep in mind as you seek someone’s advice:

  1. Oftentimes lenders provide the best advice.
  2. Get a diverse group of advisors from multiple cultures, genders, ethnicities, and skill sets.
  3. Be prepared to check your ego at the door and be willing to listen even if the advice is contrary to your opinion.
  4. Seeking advice will never make you look weak; instead, it will make you stronger and help you make effective decisions.
  5. Learn how to discern good and bad advice.
  6. Finally, remember that advice is a two-way street. As you seek advice from others, remember to always give good advice to others as well!

Find out more about me in my best-selling book “From Dirt Roads to Black Gold.” Note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of this book will help people in need through my foundation, the YBC Foundation.

Stay tuned for Blog 26 Tip 11: Silence is golden.

Disclaimer

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.  Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and the reader is advised to consult other advisors as well as his own judgment in making business decisions.